Granada, situated near Spain’s sunny southern coast, isn’t at the top of most traveller’s Spain travel bucket list, but it should be. Nestled within the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Spain’s Andalusia region, Granada is one of the most historically diverse places in Spain with strong Islamic and Christian influences. It’s also an incredibly captivating city made up of crooked streets lined with tea houses, quintessentially Spanish white-washed buildings and the best tapas scene in the country.
The main draw Granada comes from the Alhambra Palace and fortress, which sits on a hill overlooking the city. It’s a monumental complex built in a Moorish/Arab style dating back to the 13th century when this part of Spain was a Muslim region. And when Andalusia became a Christian kingdom years later, the Alhambra was the Royal Court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who added some Renaissance style in the 15th century. Naturally, it’s an icon of Spain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As well as its incredible blended history, Granada is popular with travellers of all ages due to its growing street art movement, it’s affordability over other Spanish cities like Barcelona, it’s huge student population and because of the year-round great weather.
This ultimate guide to Granada will show you all the most beautiful sites to see in Granada Spain, what to expect when visiting Granada, where to stay in Granada, things to do in Granada and is the ideal travel guide to help you in planning a trip to Granada Spain.
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How to get to Granada
Most travellers who are flying into Spain will almost always arrive at Malaga Airport, which is a city on the coast with an international airport about a two-hour bus ride away from Granada. EasyJet flights to Malaga Airport are plentiful across Europe (though you can fly to Malaga from further afield) as it’s the gateway airport to the popular holiday destination, the Costa del Sol. Granada has a small airport that you can fly to from cities like Madrid, Barcelona or Paris CDG airports via Vueling airline.
Buses from Malaga airport to Granada run frequently throughout the day and are operated by ALSA. If you are travelling from elsewhere in Spain like Madrid or Barcelona, you might find that bus services are more reliable and run more frequently than trains. Though if you are travelling extensively via train in Spain, the Renfe train pass for tourists might be more cost-effective.
What to expect in Granada
Granada is one of the biggest cities in the south of Spain, therefore the main language is Spanish. While workers in the tourism industry will be able to speak English well, much of the local population and staff in the lesser-tourist bars probably won’t speak English. However, that’s starting to change as English is being taught more stringently in Andalusian schools now.
Spain’s currency is the Euro and it is in the Schengen zone. Tipping isn’t expected in Granada but rounding up the bill or leaving a few extra coins for good service would definitely be welcomed. Granada has a very young population due to its University being the biggest in the country so expect Granada at night to be lively throughout the week. Crime in Granada is no different from any other European city. If anything, it’s safer, but just watch out for pick pockets and Alhambra ticket scams.
How to get around Granada
If your accommodation is in the city centre near all the top landmarks and attractions then you will probably be able to walk everywhere in Granada, but there are plenty of public transport options in the city.
Hiring a bike to get around Granada is a fantastic option as you will be able to see more in a shorter space of time while also being active and environmentally friendly. There are plenty of places to hire bikes in Granada on a daily or hourly basis. However, if you are not used to cycling you may want to consider hiring an electric bike for Granada’s many hills.
Alternatively, there is a green hop on hop off tourist train that has 14 stops throughout the city, including Sacromonte, Albaicin and Alhambra Palace during the day. The train runs every 20 minutes from 9:00 in the morning to around 19:00 in the evening.
The best time to visit Granada
There’s a reason why Spain’s southern coast receives millions of visitors year-round – the incredibly warm, sunny weather! Even in the winter months between December-February, the temperature is a mild 10 degrees Celsius.
And in the height of summer July-August, it’s almost too hot to do anything in Granada where, in recent years, the temperature has climbed as high as 40 degrees Celsius. The best time to visit Granada for ideal weather conditions is April-June and September-October.
Granada hosts some fantastic Christian celebrations throughout the year if you are interested in visiting during a religious holiday and learning more about the local culture. Holy Week in Easter, San Cecilio Day on the first Sunday in February, the Day of the Cross on May 3rd and Corpus Christi in June are all celebrated with dances, extravagant processions in the streets of Granada and the whole city is in a festive spirit.
Things to do in Granada
Visiting the Alhambra in Granada Spain is absolutely the top thing to do in the city and one of the top things to do in Spain. It was originally built in 889AD as a Nasrid palace before it became a Christian royal palace in the 1500s and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site which over 8,000 people visit every day. It’s an astonishing complex filled with gardens, huge monuments and many incredible palace buildings filled with ornate and exquisite Moorish and Renaissance design.
You have to purchase tickets to the Alhambra Palace in advance, or you can often pick up last-minute tickets from your hotel. Definitely leave at least three hours to explore the complex and if you’re visiting in the summer, try to go in the morning when the temperature isn’t so hot as the palaces can get stuffy with the number of visitors.
Another impressive building you should visit is the Granada Cathedral. The Cathedral wasn’t built until the 16th century, which is considered quite late for a Spanish Cathedral, but this was due to the former Islamic rule in the region and the Cathedral was even built on the ruins of a mosque.
Next-door to Granada Cathedral is the Royal Chapel, which was built during the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand specifically to house their remains when they died. The King and Queen were on the throne when Granada was overthrown by Christians and their influence is still evident throughout the city. Queen Isabella was even the Monarch who gave Christopher Columbus the order to sail to America.
Aside from the tombs of the Queen and King, the Royal Chapel also acts as a grand gallery to numerous artworks and belongings of Queen Isabella.
The Albaicin neighbourhood of Granada is directly opposite the Alhambra and is part of the World Heritage Site with the palace. It’s narrow, winding cobbled streets remain one of the most authentic parts of Granada and best represents how the city would have looked 500 years ago before the forced conversion of Christianity.
Albaicin is known for its tea shops and Moroccan/Middle Eastern-style restaurants and white-painted houses and is definitely worth visiting during your trip. Despite the very hilly streets!
San Nicolás Church and Plaza
One of the most famous buildings in the Albaicin neighbourhood is the San Nicolás church and plaza. The church was built on a mosque like the Granada Cathedral and other churches in the city, but the reason why this church is so popular is due to ‘Mirador de San Nicolás’ which is the viewpoint in the plaza over the entire Alhambra complex across the Albaicin neighbourhood.
US President Bill Clinton claimed it was the ‘most beautiful sunset in the world’ in 1997 and tourists have flocked to this location as the sun goes down ever since.
The Bañuelo Arab Baths
Considering so few Islamic buildings and monuments remain, the fact that the Bañuelo Arab Baths are still standing today is pretty unbelievable. They are some of the best-preserved Arab baths and definitely the oldest in Spain dating back to the 11th century.
The baths aren’t too easy to find as the reason they have survived so well is because residential buildings concealed the baths during the reconquering of Granada. It’s definitely worth visiting such an important Muslim monument when so few still exist.
There’s nothing that screams traditional Andalusian than watching a Flamenco show! Flamenco is essentially a folk dance that originates from southern Spain, so it’s very uncommon to find authentic flamenco shows elsewhere in the country.
There are lots of Flamenco shows just for tourists in Granada at night, but if you want an authentic Andalusian experience, head to Cuevas los Tarantos in the Sacromonte part of the city which is a Flamenco club and tickets can include drinks and dinner or Peña la Platería which is old of the oldest Flamenco clubs in Spain.
What to eat in Granada
Not many know this, but Granada is secretly foodie heaven and not just because of the many amazing tapas bars. There is a huge range of cuisine, both local and international, available in the city.
Churros are a sweet fried dough pastry, and while they are often eaten as a dessert in other countries, they are traditionally eaten for breakfast in Andalusia dipped in melted chocolate and one of the best places to eat them in Granada is at the Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla. For a savoury breakfast, try a tostada con tomate which is chopped tomato and oil on toast.
To visit the best vegan restaurant in the city, head to Hicuri Art Vegan and you’ll find the best ice cream at Heladeria Los Italianos where you’ll find lots of locals packed in after work and school.
Of course, we can’t forget about the tapas and you should really sample as much as possible in Granada. It is one of the few cities left where bars really do serve small plates of olives, seafood, patatas bravas, ham, chorizo and other classic tapas dishes with drinks. There are at least three Los Diamantes restaurants around Granada serving amazing seafood tapas that the locals love.
Where to stay in Granada
Budget – There’s no shortage of great accommodation options in Granada and that includes hostels if you’re on a budget. INN Hostels & Apartments is a spacious hostel with ensuite dorms and a beautiful courtyard where you can enjoy free breakfasts. Alternatively, for those who would prefer to stay in the Albaicin neighbourhood, Oasis Backpackers Hostel is very clean and modern with Andalusian touches that keep the decor authentic.
Mid-range – Granada has some great affordable hotels for around €50 a night, and often they have the traditional Andalusian courtyard in the centre that rooms can look out onto which gives them a more luxurious, spacious feel. Hotel Posada del Toro has a traditional Andalusian style with dark furniture and colourful yet modern bathrooms. Hotel Casa Morisca is another option in the Albaicin part of the city which has a traditional style and fantastic views of the Alhambra.
Luxury – For a phenomenal 5-star experience costing the relatively affordable price of just over €100 per night, there really is no other option than the Alhambra Palace Hotel. You’ll really feel like you’re staying in the actual Alhambra! The decor is a traditional Moorish style with colourful tiles and stone archways, the suites are huge with freestanding baths and of course, fantastic views across the city.
Tours to do in Granada
Sunset Walking Tour
A walking tour through Granada is a great idea at any time of day because there is so much to see. Exploring the Albaicin and Sacromonte neighbourhoods is a much richer experience with a knowledgeable guide to tell you about their history. But there are some fantastic photo opportunities in Granada, and you’ll be able to take some amazing shots of the huge Alhambra complex in the perfect place just as the sun starts to set.
Granada may be the best city in Spain for incredible tapas, but that doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to just walk into any tapas bar, and it will be amazing. To ensure you enjoy the best of the best tapas that Granada has to offer including some exceptional wines and beers, then join this tapas tour. Devour Spanish favourites like omelettes olives and Iberian ham while learning about their origins.
Alhambra and Generalife Guided Tour
The sheer size of the Alhambra complex can take some visitors by surprise and there’s no way you’ll be able to appreciate the best bits without knowing exactly where to go. Though you can visit the Alhambra by yourself, if you don’t know where to go you could spend an afternoon walking around in circles. By joining a guided tour around the Alhambra and Generalife you will have a much less stressful, hugely enjoyable experience and learn much more about this iconic structure.
Day trips from Granada
Hiking in the Sierra Nevada
Granada sits at the foothills of Spain’s highest mountains, the epic Sierra Nevada. So, if you want to team a city trip with a day trip outdoors then this is the perfect tour for you. It’s an easy 6km hike mostly downhill so you don’t need to worry too much about being very fit and you’ll get the chance to see geological phenomena like former glaciers, waterfalls and of course, amazing views across the mountain range and beyond.
Or if you want to explore the wider Granada region but are more interested in visiting other towns than hiking, you can book this day trip to Las Alpujarras. Las Alpujarras is the collective name for a group of all-white villages in the Sierra Nevada region around Granada which include towns like Lanjaron and Capileira (where you will be provided lunch). The fantastic views on the way to the mountain villages is worth the day trip alone!
Ronda is a town in the Malaga region of Andalusia you might have seen all over Instagram. It’s a beautiful, picturesque village which has gained notoriety for its huge stone bridge built over a gorge with a dramatic drop. Ronda is just over 2 hours from Granada and the bridge alone would be worth the travel time, but Ronda is a charming village well worth taking a day trip to see.
Recommended tours in Granada
- Alhambra and Generalife Small-Group Guided Tour in Granada
- Granada Essential Must-Do Tour
- 4WD Sierra Nevada Safari Tour in Granada
- Arabian Baths Experience at Granada’s Hammam Al Ándalus
- Tropical Coast and Caves of Nerja Day Trip with Lunch from Granada
- Skip the Line: Flamenco Show Ticket at Jardines de Zoraya, Granada
- Granada Electric Bike Guided Tour
- Small Group Food Tour in Granada
- Granada Combo: Albaicin and Sacromonte Walking Tour and Hop-On Hop-Off Train
- Sacromonte and Albaycin Walking Tour
- Twilight in Albayzin and Gypsy Sacromonte of Granada:Small group tour in English
- Granada Hot-Air Balloon Ride
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